Ask the MACist

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Welcome to the latest edition of “Ask the MACist”. The column where I answer your Mac and Mac-related questions with hopefully more clarity and insight than you could ever need.

You may have noticed that today is Monday and not Saturday. Well, as of this week "Ask the MACist" will now be appearing every Monday here at LAist instead of Saturday. So, mark your calendars!

Plus, my apologies for not having a column last week. Too many things all coming together at once. All fixed now though. As always, I want to thank those of you who sent in questions this week. They are much appreciated. Keep it up!

And remember, if you have a question about anything Mac or Mac-related, send it to me, The MACist, at: themacist at gmail dot com. Ok, let's get to the questions.

The first question comes from Steve in Los Angeles. He asks, “I have a blackberry 8700g. Is there any way to sync my blackberry with my Mac so I can get my contacts and calendar and all that or am I out of luck?”

Good question and one that I run into all the time. To many people, Blackberry is synonymous with Windows, mostly due to so many companies and individuals that use Blackberries being Windows users as well. The Mac didn’t have much of a place in the business world so consequently, Blackberry maker Research In Motion (RIM) never gave much thought to making sure its products would work with a Mac.

All that changed when a little company called Pocketmac decided that there were Mac users who would also want to use a Blackberry. More importantly, those users would want be able to sync their address book contacts and iCal calendars just their Windows counterparts. So, Pocketmac came out with a program called Pocketmac for Blackberry and the rest was history.

Over the last few years, the Mac has begun to carve out a nice in the business market and Pocketmac has updated its application right along the way as well. In fact, they did such a good job on their program that RIM decided to license their software and provide it free to all Mac using Blackberry owners. As of recently, they released version 4 of the software and that’s the version we are going to talk about here. If you don’t have version 4.0 yet, go and download it here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

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Ok, good. Now that the short history of Pocketmac is over and you have the most recent version I can say without a doubt that the software works as advertised. It syncs your Address Book and iCal with your Blackberry. It will also sync your data if you use Entourage or Now Contact and Now up to Date and even Lotus Notes.

It is pretty simple to get going. Simply install it and restart your computer. Then, connect your blackberry to your Mac with the USB cable that came with it. While your Blackberry is connected this way you get the added bonus of charging your battery as well as data sync with Pocketmac.

Once you connect the Blackberry to your Mac, launch Pocketmac for Blackberry and you will see the main window. Here you will find your controls that will allow you to set up your syncing. You have many choices of what to sync and how to sync. Choosing from the tabs at the top you can see all the choices. The ones I am usually concerned with are Contacts, Calendar and Tasks. The rest, like email sync and redirector are not something most users need to worry about. If you want to explore those options, approach them with care and be sure to read the manual before you do it.

If you click through the tabs you will notice selections for the various things you wish to sync. Under Contacts, for example, you have the option of syncing your contacts from Apple’ Address Book, MS Entourage, Now Contact, Meeting Maker and Daylight. You check the box next to the contact program you use. There are also advanced options for each of these selections. Your needs may vary but I will tell you what my default setting are on my Mac.

I use a Blackberry 8700g from T-Mobile. For my calendar and address book needs, I use the included Apple applications. So, I check the AddressBook box under Contacts, the iCal Calendar box under calendar and the iCal tasks under tasks. That’s all I need and all I use. I don’t need the rest of the items like email sync and email redirector because I use T-Mobile’s website to configure my email accounts and the email from those accounts goes directly to my blackberry over the T-Mobile network. So, no desktop redirection necessary.

If you need any more advanced help with Pocketmac you should definitely take a look at the included instructions. They are actually pretty well written and helpful. Or, feel free to ask follow-up questions my writing to: themacist at gmail dot com.

Our second question comes from Lisa in Sherman Oaks. She asks, “There are a lot of web browsers out there. Which one is the best for my Macintosh?”

As web browsers go you have a few choices if you are using a Macintosh. At the moment, you can choose from the two front-runners: Apple’s own Safari and Mozilla Firefox. You also can decide to use other browsers such as Camino or Opera. For a time I was a big fan of Camino but more recently, I have switched to using Firefox as my full-time browser of choice. Why did I choose Firefox? Well, I’ll tell you.

Firefox has many things going for it over other browsers. Chief among these is the fact that Firefox is an open program that people can see under the hood. You can have many different people developing ways to enhance the functionality of Firefox. If you use Safari, you often have to wait for Apple to do something to enhance Safari.

It’s these enhancements to Firefox, also called Extensions, which make Firefox my browser of choice. There are several of these that I install on each of my Macs at the same time I install Firefox. My two favorites and the ones I highly recommend are Faster Fox and Google Browser Sync. These two extensions are essential if you want to get the most out of Firefox.

Both extensions do pretty much what their name implies they do. Faster Fox helps make pages load faster in Firefox and thus speeds up your whole web surfing experience. There are a few different settings but I usually keep mine on Turbocharged for the best result. Faster Fox also has a pop up blocker built into it as well which helps get rid of those annoying pop up adds you see all too often these days.

Google Browser Sync is also very useful. It only does one thing but if you have multiple computers as I do, the one thing that it does is very useful. Google Browser Sync uses your gmail account (if you don't have one, go get one. it's free) to synchronize your Firefox bookmarks across all of your computers. Even if you have Macs and Windows machines and you are using Firefox, Google Browser Sync will sync your bookmarks for you. A very handy tool to have.

Lot’s of people prefer one browser to another but for the best combination of speed, compatibility and expandability your best bet is to use Firefox. As a second choice, Safari can be useful sometimes for the occasional page Firefox has trouble with. But 99% of the time, Firefox is my browser of choice no matter which computer, Mac or PC, I am using.

About Chris Ullrich: Chris is a frequent contributor to LAist as well as other sites like Comic Book Resources and Cinematical. He also used to tweak Macs (and PCs) for clients in the Entertainment Industry.

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